New Delhi: Before going to bed, Shakun Anand, 24, likes to curl up in front of the TV and watch her favourite sitcom Are We There Yet? on Comedy Central. Keeping her company is a large bowlful of ice-cream—Mother Diary’s Cookies and Cream usually or anything chocolaty—a treat that she reserves for one day in a week, since she’s also counting calories.
The frozen desserts department of Anand’s favourite department store offers a bewildering array of choices. An “out-of-home” product about a decade ago, in-home consumption of ice cream has been climbing over the years. For one of India’s top dairy brands, Amul, the split is now down the middle—half outside the home and half within.
As summer sets in over India with the promise of scorching temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius, a combination of circumstances has made manufacturers realize that they could be at an inflection point, that home consumption may soon form the bulk of their business, in line with how the business works in developed markets.
The change has been made possible by more households having the ability to keep the ice-cream from melting—the penetration of refrigerators in urban India rose to 41.0% in 2012 from 32.9% in 2009. Overall refrigerator penetration, in urban and rural areas, rose to 18.8% from 13.7% in the same period. Power back-up in urban areas and the advent of double-door refrigerators with larger freezing compartments are also aiding growth in the category.
In-home consumption of frozen desserts has been rising 25-30% annually, compared with 20% for the out-of-home variety. Ice-cream manufacturers are also pushing larger pack sizes and a variety of flavours into the Rs.2,500 crore organized ice-cream market. Buyers seem to be lapping everything up.
Swati Sethi, who works at a New Delhi-based business process outsourcing firm, spends Rs.1,000-1,500 at a time when she’s stocking up on ice-creams for a family of five.
“It’s almost a part of the daily meal now,” she says. The household’s stocks need to be replenished at least once a week, she says, especially since there are children involved—three in the case of the Sethi family.
New Delhi-based Devyani Food Industries Pvt. Ltd, which launched the Cream Bell ice-cream brand in 2003, said its in-home share has risen to 16% from 10% four years ago.
Consumption of larger pack sizes will grow in the the next decade, said Nitin Arora, chief executive officer at Cream Bell.
“It definitely expands the basket of purchases being made by housewives at modern trade stores indicating that the propensity to buy as well as incidence of consumption is going up,” said Arora.
The increased penetration of refrigerators in the country is driving in-home consumption of ice creams, said R.S. Sodhi, managing director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd, which sells its products under the Amul brand.
Amul says its sales contribution of take home packs has increased to 50% from 30% few years back. This summer, the company has rolled out a dozen new products and flavours in the family pack size.
Better cold chain infrastructure is enabling wider distribution, said Subhashis Basu, business head of dairy products at Mother Dairy Fruit and Vegetable Pvt. Ltd, part of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) of India.
“The overall strengthening of cold chain infrastructure has made ice-creams, including the take home/family packs, reach out to a larger set of consumers,” Basu said.
Apart from the mainstream flavours, Mother Diary freshened its line-up with its Western Classics range, which offers flavours such as Strawberry Crush, Cookie Crumbs and Choco-Amonds among others.
For Kwality Wall’s, the ice-cream brand owned by India’s biggest consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever Ltd, the in-home segment is significant and “our focus is on growing the market and consumption of the category” a company spokesperson said.
According to experts, more ice-cream is also being eaten at home because, oddly enough, Indians are increasingly venturing to eat out.
Ice-creams replicate the dining-out experience at home, explained B. Narayanaswamy, consultant at Ipsos Research.
Apart from ice-creams, acceptance of frozen foods is also on the rise, said Shoeab Salim, managing director at Honeybee Amusements Pvt. Ltd, which last week announced a deal to make and sell American Mini Melts ice-creams in India that come in the form of popcorn-style pellets. At-home consumption is “a growing trend. It’s not just restricted to ice-creams, it’s happening across frozen desserts”.
Meanwhile, it helps that consumers are seeking new flavours outside of plain vanilla (or even butterscotch).
“Consumers expect new flavours and SKUs (stock-keeping units), hence trials are generated through impulse packs which afterwards converts to economy family packs,” said Sodhi of Amul, which is debuting Morroccan Dry Fruits, Chocolate Brownie and Roasted Almonds this summer. They will be joined by Mother Dairy’s Tender Coconut, Caramel Croquant and Sheer-e-Khaas.